Organic farming is farming which uses no synthetic chemical products. Organically certified wine is wine that is produced from 100% organically grown grapes and the wine is manufactured without the use of any chemicals. So it stands to reason therefore, that organic wine must be sulphite free.
But hold on, don’t jump to any conclusions just yet.
Now, if you’ve ever looked at the label on a bottle of standard wine, you’ll have seen it bears the words ‘contains sulphites’ and most likely assumed that sulphites are naturally occurring in wine, making the warning about as superfluous to requirement as ‘contains shellfish’, prominently displayed on a lobster.
And you’d be right, sulphites do naturally occur in all wine production, however, this is where things can get a little murky.
Because whilst sulphites are added in mass to mainstream wine to preserve it, they aren’t added to organic or natural wines. But because sulphites are naturally present due to all wine’s fermentation process, it begs the question – can a wine ever be declared truly sulphite free?
Sulphites and EU law
According to the UK Wine Standards Board, they don’t recognise sulphite free wine under EU law. However, EU regulations surrounding food labelling requires wine bottles to display the warning ‘contains sulphites’, if the wine has more than 10 parts of sulphite per million parts of wine (ppm).
So, a consumer could make an educated guess, therefore, that if the EU consider a wine to contain sulphites if their presence is greater than 10ppm if a wine has less than 10ppm, it is sulphite free, or at the very least, low in sulphites.
Because the minute volume of natural sulphites (less than 10ppm) that occur during the wine’s fermentation are natural, and harmless. Nothing like the volume of man-made chemicals that are pumped into mass-produced wine during all stages of the wine production process, to extend its shelf life.
So what are sulphites and why are they are added to wine if they’re already naturally occurring?
Why are sulphites added to wine?
Sulphites come in many forms: sulphur dioxide (SO2), potassium bisulphite, potassium metabisulphite, sodium bisulphite, sodium metabisulphite or sodium sulphite. Regardless of the form they take, sulphites are a preservative commonly used in the food and drink industry to extend the shelf-life of consumable produce.
Sulphites essentially prevent oxidation from occurring, so in the case of wine production, their addition is to maintain the freshness of your bottle of wine. And that is good in theory, but problems arise if you have a sensitivity to sulphites.
What is the difference between wines with sulphites and sulphite free wines?
- The taste is the difference.
If you’ve ever eaten a supermarket own steak and then chowed down on a grass-fed, organic steak, you will not have failed to notice the difference between the two.
The depth of flavour, for one thing, the freshness of the meat, the colour difference setting the two apart. And this is all down to a lack of chemicals and preservatives.
And the same is true for wine.
If you want to experience great tasting, fresh wine as it should be drunk, look no further than organic or natural wines. Just don’t let them hang around in your wine cellar as they won’t last as long as the mass produced stuff.
- The impact they have on your health.
Without the addition of chemicals and preservatives such as sulphites, an organic bottle of wine is as clean and as fresh as they come, not only making it better for your body but better for the planet and the environment too.
People with a sulphite sensitivity can react in a variety of ways to the sulphites:
- trouble breathing
- tingling sensations
- swelling in parts of your body, including your mouth and throat
- nausea and vomiting
- rashes and itching
In severe allergic cases, sulphites will cause an anaphylaxis reaction.
The moral of the organic wine story
If you’re looking for a wine that is naturally free from sulphites in order to avoid health concerns, or if you’re keen to keep pesticides and chemicals from entering your body, or if you just want to drink without the requisite sore head the next day, make sure to include organic and natural wines at the top of your wine shopping list.
Because whilst organic wines are not always sulphite free, their levels of sulphites will be minimal compared to standard wines. Whilst no sulphites will have been added to organic wine, they can still contain between 10-40ppm of naturally occurring sulphites. But that is nothing in comparison to standard wine, as the EU allows up to 220ppm sulphites per bottle of wine, and the kicker is, you don’t know which wine contains what volumes of sulphites.
To be doubly sure, opt for organic wines that have been certified by organic organisations such as Nature&Progrès, as these organisations have their own extra strict criteria for wines that want to carry their organic certification label.
Not only do these wines have to be made from grapes grown in a wholly organic manner, but they need to follow the organisation’s rule book on winemaking, to the letter. And in the case of Nature&Progrès, this includes only allowing levels of sulphites to reach just half of the levels allowed by the EU.